Devoted and obedient, Anne is tethered to her role as the passive wife of a rural town minister. It takes, quite literally, the bite of a vampire to awaken her quiescent desires and shed the shackles of domestic subservience. Jakob, her husband, is then forced to not just confront the evil plaguing his flock; he must also confront his preconceptions of marriage and gender as Anne becomes increasingly bold and fearless.
This is the dynamic that makes Jakob’s Wife so unique. Director Travis Stevens couples the hallmarks of the vampire genre with a quintessential, small-town America backdrop to provoke and challenge patriarchal institutions and outmoded stereotypes.
The film’s plot and its title, which intentionally doesn’t use the name of our protagonist (unlike Stephen King’s Carrie or Josh Malerman’s Malorie, for example), aren’t the only devices which speak to this core concept. It’s pronounced in the dialogue too.
Since transforming, one female vampire states: “I’ve found a new saviour, a love that gives me strength instead of fear. A love for myself.” Significantly, the head vampire, played compellingly by Bonnie Aarons, and visually reminiscent of Kurt Barlow in Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot, explains that she does not desire ‘ownership’ of her victims. Instead, she wants Anne to reclaim her autonomy. She warns: “[Jakob’s] afraid of the life within you.”
This fear of Anne’s empowerment is satirically paralleled with Jakob’s fears of eternal damnation, the undead and, of course, his threatened perceptions of masculinity. This dark humour is also reflected in the film’s gore, which is as gleefully inordinate as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 and Drag Me to Hell. The violence, crucially, is as ridiculous as the pre-existing gender and societal structures the cast and director prod and expose.
Despite some glaringly hackneyed acting and dialogue, Jakob’s Wife soars higher with candid and comical performances from horror virtuoso Barbara Crampton (Anne) and Larry Fessenden (Jakob). Even denigrators of the genre will find themselves cheering for Anne to spill more blood.
19 August 2021